For Talia Martens, dog sledding is a family affair. “I was born into it. My mom has been doing it for 40 years, so I’ve really been doing it all my life,” Martens said.
The 17-year-old loves to run her Alaskan huskies. During the winter months, she does daily training runs through the snow-packed trails near her Brule home. “When we first start training, we do five mile runs and those are normally fast,” Martens said. Her goal is to build up the dogs’ endurance to prepare them for long distance racing. “I do like 20 miles, and a two-hour rest. Then another 20 miles, then a two-hour rest. Then 15, and then I just up the miles as the training goes on,” Martens said. “They enjoy it a ton.”
Martens raised her dogs from birth, and trained them to listen to her commands. “I have to be firm, so they know who’s the boss,” Martens said. It’s hard work, but the dogs enjoy it. They jump with excitement as soon as Martens pulls out the sled, barking at her, hoping they’ll be chosen to go on a training run. Martens and her family have more than a dozen dogs, but only six to eight get to go on a sled run.
Martens and her huskies have competed in races across the upper Midwest. In 2018, she signed up for a new challenge, the Junior Iditarod. “Somebody mentioned it to me and I was like, ‘Oh, that sounds pretty cool,’” Martens said. “I’ve always wanted to run dogs in Alaska.” It’s a 150-mile race across the Alaskan wilderness over two days. It’s a grueling adventure, but one she was prepared to handle. In addition to her previous racing experience, she spent a month and a half training in Alaska with Jim Lanier and Gunnar Johnson, two veteran Iditarod mushers.
On February 24, 2018, she and ten other junior mushers took off from Knik Lake, Alaska. “It was very beautiful. The runs were mainly in swamps and on lakes and rivers but there’s mountains everywhere,” Martens said. “It was so pretty.” At the end of the first day, there’s a mandatory layover at the Yentna Station Roadhouse. “It really was hard mentally, but it wasn’t actually that bad,” Martens said. “I think the races before really helped me prepare myself for it.”
The second day racers take off towards the finish line at Willow Lake in Willow, Alaska. After two hard days of racing, Martens finished ninth with a time of 19 hours and 24 minutes. “I was so happy. I was ready for a new set of clothes and a warm bed,” Martens said. She enjoyed her first trip to Alaska so much, it might not be her last. “It just really upped my confidence,” Martens said. “I want to go up there again and do it over again. It was a lot of fun.”
There’s one catch. Martens turns 18 this year, meaning she’s no longer eligible for the junior race. Next time she’ll have to race against the adults in the world-famous Iditarod, a thousand mile race. “Honestly, yeah. I think I could see myself doing it,” Martens said. Until then, Martens and her dogs will be out on the trails, mushing their way through another Wisconsin winter. “Once I get out there, I relax,” Martens said. “It’s very fun.”